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Latest from Porsche: 2009 911 Carrera and Carrera S

A look at the newest iteration of Porsche's iconic 911 sports car.

2009 Porsche 911 front quarter view Carey Russ

As a car-maker, Porsche is unusual in that it usually seems to be driven more by engineering than by marketing. But, especially in the 911 line, that means a focus on traditional sports car core values--power balanced with handling, and driving characteristics that can be best utilized by skilled drivers.

The recently introduced 2009 911 Carrera and Carrera S models continue in that vein. They are still known by internal code 997, but it's Version 2.0. New engines boast more power, better fuel efficiency, and lower emissions. As with all 911s since the 1963 prototype, they are horizontally opposed sixes, and like all since the 996 version of 1998, they are liquid cooled. The engines have the same displacement as last year--3.6 liters for the Carrera and 3.8 for the Carrera S--but are almost completely different otherwise. Direct fuel injection allows a higher compression ratio--12.5:1--for increased horsepower, torque, and fuel efficiency. To take maximum advantage of this, the combustion chambers and pistons have been redesigned. The VarioCam Plus valve lift and timing control system has also been revised to that end. The Carrera now has 345 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 288 foot-pounds of torque at 4,400 rpm. The Carrera S beats that with 385 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 310 foot-pounds at 4,400. Both engines are 6 kg--13.2 pounds--lighter in weight than the previous engines.

2009 Porsche 911 rear quarter view Carey Russ

They're coupled to either a six-speed manual or the seven-speed Porsche-Doppelkupplungsgetriebe (PDK) double-clutch automated transmission, which replaces the previous torque converter-based Tiptronic S automatic. Brakes are larger and stronger, and the standard Porsche Stability Management (PSM) system now incorporates brake fluid prefill and brake assist in addition to stability control, traction control, and automatic brake differential functions. A limited-slip differential is available, as are lightweight ceramic composite brake discs.

Suspension is by modified MacPherson struts in front, with Porsche's five-arm spring-strut design in the rear. The Carrera S Coupe and Cabriolet have Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) as standard equipment. It's optional in the regular Carrera models. PASM combines multimode electronically-controlled shock dampers that can adapt to the driver's driving style and compensate for dive during braking and squat under acceleration. There is also a sport version.

Sport Chrono Plus is a high-performance electronic option package that modifies control maps for the engine management and PSM systems, and PASM and PDK if the car is so-equipped, to quicken throttle response and increase the threshold at which the ABS and PSM systems intervene. It also includes a dash-mounted digital/analog stopwatch with lap-counting ability. Sport Chrono Plus works best with the PDK gearbox, where it incorporates a full-throttle start launch control function.

2009 Porsche 911 front view Carey Russ

Outside, a new front bumper with larger air intakes and LED daytime running lights is readily apparent. New aerodynamic mirrors improve rear vision, and LED taillights and standard bi-xenon headlights improve night vision and visibility. Dynamic cornering lights are optional.

Inside, Porsche joins the 21st century in cabin electronics with the newest version of the Porsche Communication Management (PCM) system. Not only is the interface screen larger, it's a simple-to-use touch screen, very unlike offerings from other German luxury manufacturers. The available navigation system has a 40GB hard drive and optional voice control. Bluetooth phone and iPod connectivity are also available, in addition to inputs for a mini-jack and USB memory stick.

2009 Porsche 911 audio inputs Carey Russ

So, the 997.2 combines freshened styling and improved interior amenities with seriously upgraded power and state-of-the-art chassis and safety aids. Underneath, it still has all of the virtues that have made the 911 an automotive icon. It can be driven hard on the track during a track day or autocross, and then driven home in traffic without a complaint from the car. It's seriously quick and fast, as 0-60 times vary from 4.9 seconds for a manual Carrera Cabrio to 4.3 seconds for a PDK Carrera S Coupe and top speeds are 178 for the Carrera and 186 for the Carrera S. But the 2009 Porsche 911 is also seriously comfortable, and capable of covering long distances. Quickly.

The 911 Coupe and Cabriolet are available now. Carrera prices start at $75,600 for the Coupe and $86,200 for the Cabrio. Carrera S prices start at $86,200 for the Coupe and $96,800 for the Cabrio.